Choose Your Own Adventure

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The sun is high in the sky above the Wasatch Mountains, and the crunch of snow underfoot is the only sound breaking the absolute stillness. Invigorated by a sense of achievement as you reach the peak, you step out from under the evergreen coverage, eyes drinking in the details of the vastness below. You look past this mountain range, and it’s the state of Wyoming, your companion informs you. Wyoming is 45 miles away, but from here, it feels as though you are measuring that distance in heartbeats. You’ve never felt so present.

Your aforementioned companion is Jeff Manwaring, founder and owner of Exclusive Excursions, a Park City, Utah-based outdoor adventure company offering experiences ranging from physically challenging mountain treks to urban walking tours catering to niche interests.

Drawing on his lifelong ties to the community, Jeff launched Exclusive Excursions six years ago. As happy customers spread the word, his company rapidly developed a reputation for providing one-of-a-kind experiences, giving careful consideration to each client’s interests. In taking the time to get to know each guest individually, Jeff has created a niche for himself within the adventure tours market. His ability to connect is clearly paying off.

“A lot of companies just do the basic hiking tour or basic biking tour, but there weren’t many companies really willing to truly customize an experience for the guests,” Jeff says. “It’s all about asking questions: what they want to see, what kind of shape they’re in, how old their kids are, where they’re from.”

With its famously stunning scenery, Park City is a natural home for adventure tourism, but rather than rest on the area’s considerable laurels, Jeff saw the beauty in enhancing the scenery with a combination of historical and regional knowledge and a unique spin on each outing. Experiences tend to change depending on the season or patron, and Jeff’s personalized approach to tours keeps clients coming back year after year, inspiring him to evolve his own perspective on the land around him even as he teaches others about it.

“I’m a native, born and raised in the area, and a lot of our guides are the same. They’ve been around for a long time, and we kind of feed off each other,” Jeff says. “But every once in a while I have a tour, they’re botanists or something like that, so they know a lot about the plants and the animals, and they actually teach me a few things.”

Although he now spends his days reveling in nature’s beauty, Jeff began his career in hotel management. He soon realized that his work would increasingly require him to move around—when the only place that spoke to his heart was Park City.

This part of the country serves as a year-round escape for visitors from all over the world. Tourists flock to the area in the warmer months, seeking an escape from the heat, and winter brings crowds of mountain sports enthusiasts chasing world-class powder. The possibilities for creating memorable experiences are endless, so while the tried-and-tested hospitality industry held its appeal for Jeff, he felt he could offer guests of the local resorts something off the beaten path. The concierge community agreed.

“Working in a big corporation [like a] hotel, you have hardly any freedom to do stuff with the guests,” Jeff says. “Here, I can pretty much do anything I want for our guests— and that’s what I like, just the ability to customize and go above and beyond.”

Since striking out on his own, Jeff has been celebrating his newfound flexibility in ways big and small, like seizing the opportunity to change a tour on the fly.

“At least 70 percent of the time, we’ll throw a curveball in there and just re-create an experience for someone,” Jeff says. “I always love pulling an audible, just talking to people [to see] if something sparks their interest.”

Jeff first fell in love with the outdoors as a young scout, collecting merit badges with the help of his grandfather. The skills he acquired as a boy now supply him with some of the pointers he passes along to his patrons, like how to start a campfire, how to build a rope bridge from scratch, or his personal favorite—how to use the white film that comes from rubbing an aspen tree as sunblock in a pinch.

Now that his passion has turned into his livelihood, Jeff retains that early joy in his surroundings, and considers himself fortunate to be dedicating his life to the appreciation of the world around him.

“I always joke around with my dad about this because he was a dentist, and I just think my clients are a lot happier to see me than his were to see him,” Jeff says. “You might as well deal with [people] when they’re happy, and who’s happier than when you’re on vacation… rather than being a doctor or lawyer or working in a grocery store. Being outdoors, that’s probably the happiest you can get.”

For his patrons, there’s something very special about “the emotional aspect of just seeing how beautiful our planet is,” he says. And for Jeff, there’s an incredible power in observing the beauty of something grander than he is, something so vast and unknowable. It’s that very feeling he passes on to his guests after snowshoeing up a mountainside, spotting moose and rabbit tracks along the way, and then, standing at the top of it all and looking out over those famous snow-capped peaks.

It all goes back to that sense of freedom, and of possibility.

We explored Park City with Jeff during our West Coast Road Trip in the Lincoln Navigator. To learn more, visit us here.

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